Swine Lake and Sendak

Yesterday’s Zippy: a balletic God in the multiply punning strip “Pas de Dieu”:

(Background, from Wikipedia:

Polina Semionova, born in Moscow in 1984, is a classical ballet dancer and Principal with the Berlin State Opera.

… In 2003, at the age of 19, Semionova performed with the English National Ballet in Swan Lake, receiving approving reviews from English critics. )

Goodness knows who the first person was to pun Swan Lake into Swine Lake, but it certainly wasn’t Bill Griffith. There’s a 1977 “Swine Lake” episode of the Muppet Show:

The ballet was spoofed as “Swine Lake” on episode 213 of The Muppet Show. Rudolf Nureyev danced the prince, and, in response to a request he made to dance with Miss Piggy on the show, he is partnered with the Ballerina Pig dancing as Odette and Odile. The pig naturally turns the number into something of a slapstick routine. (link)

From the show:

There’s a “Swine Lake” statue in Cincinnati (in front of the Cincinnati Ballet), with five balletic Miss Piggies, commissioned by the Ballet for the Big Pig Gig, a series of decorated pigs in the city, once known as Porkopolis because of its history as a pork processing center. The pigs in situ:

And there’s the 1999 children’s book Swine Lake, by James Marshall, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The cover art:

Then today came the news of Sendak’s death. From Margalit Fox’s obit in the New York Times:

Maurice Sendak, Author of Splendid Nightmares, Dies at 83

Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn.

… Among the other titles he wrote and illustrated, all from Harper & Row, are “In the Night Kitchen” (1970) and “Outside Over There” (1981), which together with “Where the Wild Things Are” [(1963)] form a trilogy; “The Sign on Rosie’s Door” (1960); “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” (1967); and “The Nutshell Library” (1962), a boxed set of four tiny volumes comprising “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny” and “Pierre.”

The Nutshell Library books are mostly not dark (Alligators All Around is an alphabet book, Chicken Soup With Rice a book of months, and One Was Johnny a counting book), though Pierre is “a cautionary tale”, in which Pierre, who ostentatiously doesn’t care, is eaten by a lion (but things turn out well in the end; the moral is “Care”.). All charming, and “Whoopee once / Whoopee twice / Whoopee chicken soup with rice” is a really sticky earworm.

Where the Wild Things Are is the masterpiece. It was made into a movie in 2009 by Spike Jonze, though the movie (wonderfully staged) is really intended for adults rather than children.

I’ve posted twice on Sendak. In 2009, on Language Log, on “text spreading”, page/line divisions in Where the Wild Things Are. And in 2010, on this blog, starting from a Zippy cartoon:

Zippy’s lyrics also evoke the child world of purposes, as in Ruth Krauss’s 1952 A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak; Sendak also illustrated the charming What Do You Say, Dear? A Book of Manners for all Occasions by Sesyle Joslin).

In addition to his children’s book work, Sendak was a respected designer of sets and costumes for operas (Hansel and Gretel, The Magic Flute, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Love of Three Oranges) and was recognized as a graphic artist by exhibitions in a number of galleries.

On a personal note, Fox refers to Sendak’s “lifelong melancholia” and writes:

As Mr. Sendak grew up — lower class, Jewish, gay — he felt permanently shunted to the margins of things. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he told The New York Times in a 2008 interview. “They never, never, never knew.”


3 Responses to “Swine Lake and Sendak”

  1. Comic machines « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] and painter, Raymond Briggs is an illustrator (of children’s books) and graphic novelist, Maurice Sendak is an illustrator and writer (of children’s books), Saul Steinberg is classified as […]

  2. Steadman’s Boids « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] editorial cartoons and in his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson) adults. In the company of Maurice Sendak, Raymond Briggs, Ronald Searle, and Saul […]

  3. Barbara Kruger « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] editorial cartoons and in his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson) adults. In the company of Maurice Sendak, Raymond Briggs, Ronald Searle, and Saul […]

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